Ending the Magic 8 Ball approach to RtI

When your building’s schedule doesn’t include an intervention block, about the only tool in the teacher’s toolbox is ask the Magic 8 Ball.


The great oracle is helpful, but it has its limits. It is only able to provide advice. We need to provide students on our team an intervention plan.

Our team has identified nearly 25 students who would benefit from an intervention program that currently does not exist. These students are not necessarily at risk. They are students who demonstrate difficulty completing work that demonstrates effective effort on a regular basis. While the criteria may be broad, we created three tiers of intervention for a three week after school program:

  • Level 1:
    • Independent after-school work time. Students will be asked to report to the library for quiet work time. Students will sign in and out for that day.
  • Level 2:
    • Supervised work time. Students will be asked to report to a teacher’s room after school for a supervised work time.
  • Level 3:
    • Study Skills. Students will be assigned to an after school study skills program. Skills will include: Agenda use, assignment prioritizing, time management (1-2 hours of out-of-school work time each and every day), resourcefulness, and strategies. The program will spend 15 minutes a day working on a study skill and 30 minutes for supportive work time. Entry in and exit from the group will be based on the following:
      • Regular, proper use of the Agenda
      • Ability to prioritize assignments on a daily basis
      • Regularly complete work that demonstrates effective effort with a minimum of support, in and out of school
      • Demonstrate academic progress (learning!)

Last week each tier of students was called in for a brief meeting with the teachers before lunch. On Monday we met with the tier one students, on Tuesday we briefed the tier two students, and on Wednesday we met with the tier three students. At the end of each meeting the students received a  letter and were to obtain a parent signature. The tier assigned to the student was circled on the letter.


We felt it would be more effective if we met the students as a team of teachers. That way it wouldn’t appear to the student that, “Mrs. Dooms wants me to stay after.” It would be, “My teachers want me to stay.” We also felt it necessary for the students to see the three levels of intervention, not just their assigned intervention. We established a three week, Monday through Thursday time period for commitment and consistency. After three weeks students will either be exited or they will stay on for another three week session.

Only one parent returned the letter with a note saying the intervention will be handled at home. The remaining 22 students are on board for starting Monday.



Can best practice result in malpractice?

Matt Coaty’s recent post on learning experiences has caused me to reflect on posting the daily objective on the board and a district’s mandate. Is there room for discussion regarding what an appropriate learning target looks like across grades? For example is an explicit “I can…” statement be too low level for most middle schoolers? Can we challenge their thinking by reframing it in the form of a question? Is an image or anagram appropriate? Can it be process based rather than content based (i.e. mathematical practices, thinking strategies). If a teacher has strong rationale for not posting the daily objective at all isn’t that okay?

Here’s an example of one of my daily objectives–“You will be able to express equivalent ratios.” This is what I think of it:

It’s a low level, non-intellectually engaging bunch of words forming a lousy, declarative sentence that describes what I’m doing going to do to you this class period. There. Done. I’ve checked it off my to-do list.

Instead, what if I posed this image with a question? It’s not the greatest, but it is a tad more perplexing.

equiv ratios

My point is that learning targets should be crafted to evoke thinking. Simplifying them into ordinary “I can…” statements turns them into trivia.

Additionally, there are other times when I think posting the daily objective on the board is equivalent to “Spoiler Alert!” It can stop curiosity dead in its tracks. If the day’s learning experience is discovery based have I not given away the ending by posting the objective? Even if the lesson is direct instruction, wouldn’t it require some critical thinking on the student’s part to close the lesson with a reflection and the specific mathematical practices applied, rather than the teacher explicitly posting the purpose at the start? Let’s have the students create their own understanding in an exit slip, journal entry, or think-pair-share with a closing prompt, “Demonstrate what you learn today. Describe the mathematical practice(s) you applied.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for an incoherent lesson. A clear lesson objective and linking it to the math practices are at the heart of lesson planning and instruction. I’m suggesting at times it’s appropriate to save the story’s resolution for the end of the story, and that a good question evokes more learning than a declarative sentence.


Progress reports

Even though parents and students have 24/7 access to grades, missing assignments etc. the two 7th grade teams in our building generate paper progress reports. It’s our way of making sure both kids and families are informed. We can’t rely on Eschool as the only form of communication because for whatever reason some kids or parents don’t check it. So twice a quarter–at the 4th and 8th week, students are required to check Home Access, write down the percentage and letter grade for each of the core subjects, note the number of missing assignments and obtain a parent signature.

Our team has done some soul searching of late, and we came to the conclusion the kids were treating the progress report task as just another assignment to be checked off.  We never bothered to ask students to reflect on student skills and learning. You see we have several students with weak student skills, some with strong student skills, and some are somewhere in between. It can be a cause for celebration, or a cause for concern. In any case it is something that parents and students should discuss. So for the past three weeks our team meetings have focused on what a new progress report should include. We now have something much more reflective.

Progress report

One of my teammates, who prefers to leave no trace of a digital footprint, designed the new progress report. We’ve increased the number of reports from two to three for the fourth quarter. The front side of the tri-fold will capture student reflections and the reverse side will be used for students to graph the academic progress for each of their core subjects.

In a future post I’ll describe the after school intervention program our team is launching at the start of the fourth quarter.